When I asked veteran restaurateur Dylan Moore what drew him to the kitchen, he echoed a sentiment I’ve heard many times over the years. “I always thought chefs were studs,” he told me. “Part pirate, part rock star, part artist.” The fact that he grew up in the industry — his family owned Lucile’s — only fueled his passion. But his answer to another question was anything but standard. Find out what Moore would be doing right now if he weren’t a chef, and what to expect from his Moxie Eatery, which he opened this spring just feet from the spots once occupied by earlier Moore restaurants Deluxe and Delite, in the conversation that follows.
Westword: How do you describe Moxie Eatery, both in terms of menu and vibe? With all the new openings, what’s its niche?
Dylan Moore: Clean, green, casual neighborhood eatery. Modern with a touch of funk. My neighborhood has been lacking a fresh alternative to bar food and pizza. When I talk to the locals — owners of shops, retail spots, salons — everyone says the same thing. They want a good sandwich for lunch and a great breakfast.
Tell us about the hours. It opens and closes early, right?
It’s 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. right now. There’s a lot of demand for early breakfast on Broadway. Handmade, handheld is hard to come by. Our best time is lunch. The sandwich and salad selection seem to be popular.
You’re a veteran restaurateur. Does your experience make the process of starting a restaurant any easier, or is every launch just as exhausting?
Every launch is exhausting. Dealing with the city, mostly — contractors, landlords — but you learn more every time.
Quick bio: How old are you, where are you from, major career steps, etc.?
I’m 47, born in New York but grew up in Boulder. Because my family owned Lucile’s, I was in the kitchen from an early age. I went to the University of Colorado for a year and a half before I decided that I didn’t want to be in school; I wanted to be a chef. I moved to San Francisco to go to culinary school. It just so happened that I got a job across the street, working for Jeremiah Tower. For a while, I was a sous-chef at Stars in California. Then, after running a few more restaurants, I decided to open Deluxe in Denver.
Deluxe and Delite closed several years ago, and after that you spent a lot of time traveling. Where did you go, and how did those travels influence Moxie?
I traveled mostly in Southeast Asia, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and Singapore, then went to South America and all over Mexico. It was the street-food aspect that influenced me the most. Quick, easy and delicious.
If you hadn’t become a chef, what would you be?
I think I would be a furniture designer. I’ve always had a passion for mid-century furniture, like Eames and Nelson.
How long have you been in the business?
I started working at my family’s restaurant when I was six and never really stopped. So about 41 years.
What’s a career highlight?
I would have to say that Moxie is my highlight. I have been tossing this idea around for years, and it’s better than I could have imagined.
Did you have a mentor, and what did that person teach you that still rings true today?
I would have to say that Jeremiah Tower was my mentor. His food sensibility and his use of fresh herbs and unique ingredients still ring true today with me.
Do you have a signature dish?
For years at Deluxe, it was my masa-fried-oyster shooters. Now at Moxie, I think it’s the kale-and-oyster-mushroom salad. There’s something about the roasted garlic-tamari vinaigrette. It almost gives you the satisfaction of eating a steak.
Hardest item on Moxie’s menu to get right:
My favorite breakfast item: the avocado toast. It’s super-simple, but it’s all in the details. The perfect egg, the perfect toast, and the perfect smashed avocado.
Turning point in your career:
I guess it was taking the three-year break, then coming back invigorated and looking at things in a fresh way.
If you could eat only one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?
I would have to say the chicken and chile relleno burrito at El Taco de Mexico.
What’s a hidden gem in Denver?
It’s not really a hidden gem, but I’ve been digging Work & Class for the past couple of years.
Do you ever cook at home? If so, do you have a go-to dish?
I always keep braised pork belly in the freezer. For late-night munchies, I cook some rice and make a quick cucumber salad, then crisp up the pork belly, add hoisin and sriracha, and I’m all set.
Favorite road trip you’ve taken, and where you went:
I love the trip from L.A. to San Francisco. Santa Barbara, Oxnard and cruising the coast.
What do you love most about summer?
It would have to be barbecuing and going to the mountains to cool down.
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Best tip for a home cook:
Microplane. It’s great for making garlic paste and zesting lemon on almost everything.
Moxie Eatery is located at 70 Broadway. Get more information at 303-524-9236 or visit moxieeatery.com